Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

A Quick Note on Robert E. Lee’s Orderly

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 14, 2016

I bought Al Arnold’s book and have now read it. These comments apply to the Kindle version; if the print version differs, someone speak up.

The book’s subtitle is A Modern Black Man’s Confederate Journey, which seems about right, because it’s largely a stream-of-consciousness narrative of the author’s beliefs and thoughts on history, faith, culture, and his discovery of his Confederate heritage. Detailed discussion of his ancestor, Turner Hall, Jr., occupies only a small section in the center of the book. What Arnold knows or concludes about Hall seems to be entirely based on brief newspaper items from the 1930s and 40s when Hall attended several veterans’ reunions. There are no nineteenth-century documents cited that I see in telling Hall’s story.

The connection to Nathan Bedford Forrest seems to be that Hall, in his final years, possessed a sum of Confederate currency that he said was given him by Forrest. Arnold concludes that Hall must have been owned by Forrest at some point before the war, during the future general’s slave-trading days. Arnold speculates that later, while acting as a body servant to two unnamed Confederate soldiers during the war, he encountered Forrest and the general gave him the money “as part of a dynamic relationship that had been forged between the slave master and the slave.”

Arnold acknowledges that Forrest and Lee did not meet during the war. His source for his ancestor’s service to Lee is a 1940 Hugo, Oklahoma Daily News story that mentions that Hall was an orderly for Lee and was present at Appomattox. Arnold speculates that “Turner would have traveled with his Confederate comrades throughout the theater of the war and at some point been introduced to General Robert E. Lee. . . I gather he was likely introduced to Lee as ‘one of Bedford’s slaves.'”

These issues of substantive content aside, Arnold could have used a proofreader, just for consistency. Frederick Douglass is referred to twice as “Fredrick Douglas.” There is mention of both the “Battle of Brice Crossings” and the “Battle of Brice’s Crossroads.” At least twice he includes a citation to a 1919 manuscript by Charles Wesley, “The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army,” and gets both the title of the article and the spelling of the author’s name (“Wesle”) wrong. In one paragraph, Arnold gives the plural of orderly as orderly’s and orderlies.

Some of it is just plain weird, like when Arnold explains that “Nathan Bedford Forrest was like the one white boy back in the neighborhood that could really jump. . . the Larry Bird of basketball.” He lists Robert Smalls, who stole the steamboat Planter and turned it over to the U.S. Navy, and William Tillman, an African American seaman from New York who led the capture of the Confederate privateer Jeff Davis, in a section called, “Black Confederates on Record.” Arnold says that “slavery existed over three hundred and ninety-six years under the American flag” before being ended in 1865. Some materials cited in the book have parenthetical source notations, but there’s no bibliography or index.

It’s a very odd book, and much more about Al Arnold’s thoughts and beliefs than about the life of Turner Hall, Jr. It’s similar in some ways to the late Anthony Hervey’s Why I Wave the Confederate Flag, Written by a Black Man, although more explicitly grounded in Arnold’s faith and optimism. If that’s your thing, fine, but there’s not much there for a researcher to find useful.

UPDATE, March 14: One of my colleagues over at Civil War Talk observes:
Sometimes I think this is a new-ish genre. It’s a way of helping resolve conflict, understand, make peace with, or other things.

Exactly right. Robert E. Lee’s Orderly is what evangelicals will recognize as testimony from the author about his discovery and reconciliation with his ancestor’s Confederate connection. It’s a book about Al Arnold, and only tangentially about Turner Hall, Jr.


22 Responses

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  1. Leo said, on March 14, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Please tell me it is published by Sea Raven Press. 🙂

  2. Jeffry Burden said, on March 14, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Wow…sounds like a hot mess to me. Is there a publisher involved?

    • Andy Hall said, on March 14, 2016 at 9:35 am

      The publisher is Green Press, a company in Minnesota that solicits authors of all genres to hire them publish e-versions of their works. In the olden days this would be considered a “self-published” or “vanity press” book. It certainly shows no evidence of the guiding hand of a traditional publisher.

  3. Bill Underhill said, on March 14, 2016 at 10:01 am

    I have read a couple of “self published” books and found that they were not worth reading. Poor grammar, misspelled words and for a non-fiction book, no sources given. It’s just plain vanity. Thanks for the review, Andy.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 14, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Sometimes authors self-publish because their subject is so narrowly-focused or obscure that it’s not an economically-viable venture for a conventional publisher, and those works can have real merit. In this case, though, what is recorded in the historical record about Turner Hall amounts to a medium-length paragraph; all the rest is speculation and discursive musings.

      • Leo said, on March 14, 2016 at 11:04 am

        While it now appears this book is of little to no historical value, it will find a willing audience in the heritage crown. The real damage will occur when the book is picked up by the unsuspecting and curious who may mistakenly believe it to the 100% accurate.

  4. Shoshana Bee said, on March 14, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Thank you Andy for taking the time to frame the conversation on the actual contents of the book. I am curious: Is there a Black Confederate theme in the narrative,i.e, does the author present personal support for the concept of Black Confederate loyalty? (or the existence of Black Confederate Soldiers) Thank you! B

    • Andy Hall said, on March 14, 2016 at 11:54 am

      To his credit, Arnold does not make any claim that there were large numbers of African Americans enlisted as soldiers in the CS army, and is very clear that his ancestor was a servant/orderly, rather than an enlisted man under arms. But otherwise, it’s a mishmash of fuzzy terminology and bits and pieces picked up from various “heritage” sources. Louis Napoleon Nelson makes a cameo appearance as a Confederate chaplain, for example.

      • Shoshana Bee said, on March 14, 2016 at 12:11 pm

        Follow up questions: There has been a lot of forum/blog press over this book. Now that you have read the book, is it much adieu about nothing? Regarding the lack of sourcing, is it more of a caveat emptor as far as the narrative goes, rather than objecting to a historically unproven claim? I believe that when purchasing any history book,, one must do a bit of due diligence before committing to what the author presents. Thank you.

  5. Pat Young said, on March 14, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    Thanks for the analysis.

  6. terry6400 said, on March 15, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Andy Hall said, “There are no nineteenth-century documents cited that I see in telling Hall’s story. The connection to Nathan Bedford Forrest seems to be that Hall, in his final years, possessed a sum of Confederate currency that he said was given him by Forrest.”

    Andy Hall, “Do you have a primary source for these two gems of speculation, or is Andy Hall the only one allowed to speculate on historical facts?”

  7. Leo said, on March 15, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Mr. Arnold is getting an incredible amount of support and affirmation from the local heritage crowd here in Mississippi. I have traced a glowing review of his book on Amazon back to a Mississippi heritage advocate, and he attracts confederate supporters at his book promotions like a rock star. If anyone is critical of Mr. Arnold on social media or in local newspapers, the heritage advocates rally to his defense and often pile on his critics.

    If you combine all this with his Christian faith, it may explain why is so forgiving of the past.

    • Jimmy Dick said, on March 15, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      What else would anyone expect from the heritage crowd? They’re not interested in anything except stuff that makes them feel good. Facts that prove them wrong have no place in their minds or what they want to hear. The bottom line is they can whine and post all day long, but it still does not prove a damned thing.

      The funny part about this is that they’re fired up over a slave who was not a soldier. That’s it. It does not validate the idea of black confederate soldiers at all. In fact, it sort of reinforces the truth that slaves were not soldiers at all. I’m sure they don’t even understand that point.

      • Leo said, on March 15, 2016 at 7:06 pm

        “… confederate soldiers at all. In fact, it sort of reinforces the truth that slaves were not soldiers at all. I’m sure they don’t even understand that point.”

        When have facts ever counted for anything in the heritage movement? 😉
        You are right about them only wanting to feel good about their ancestors. Nothing the heritage crowd does makes much sense. When the University of Mississippi announced they are placing a contextual plaque at the base of the confederate monument on campus, the heritage groups LOST THEIR MINDS! Now that the campus chapter of the NAACP has released a statement critical of the wording, the heritage clowns are jumping on the NAACP for “never being satisfied” and “always complaining”.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 15, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      “Mr. Arnold is getting an incredible amount of support and affirmation from the local heritage crowd here in Mississippi.”

      In the Acknowledgements he thanks “my dear Confederate brothers” from the Brandon, Mississippi SCV camp, and praises their “commitment to history, [and] the Confederate heritage, including the role of blacks in the Confederacy.” So of course the heritage crowd loves it; they surely helped shape the author’s understanding of the subject.

      • Leo said, on March 15, 2016 at 8:12 pm

        This just gets weirder and weirder. I can’t wait for clayton bigsby to show up.

  8. Sandi Saunders said, on March 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    I cannot help but feel sad over such efforts. Sure his ancestor could have been that loyal a servant, nothing really new there, loyalty is a real thing even among slaves to their owners, but the retelling only serves a dark narrative that is still holding this nation and race relations back. The truth or facts of the story almost don’t matter, the need to tell it does though, just not in a good or cathartic way.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 20, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      One of the interesting things about stories like this is that they are supposedly revealing some hidden aspect of the conflict that’s been suppressed or kept secret by mysterious forces of political correctness or whatever. In fact, stories of loyal servants have been a cornerstone of the Lost Cause for well over a century, heralded in the Confederate Veteran magazine and lots of other places.

  9. BP Lejeune said, on April 3, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    I had an ancestor named Turner Hunt born in 1808 in Roanoke had 20 slaves. Wonder if there is a connection. IN his will her left several slaves to his children but also three white servants. I did not know you could bequeath indentured servants/?

    • Andy Hall said, on October 5, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      There is an important distinction between indentured servants and chattel slaves, that is sometimes overlooked. Indentured servants were, like apprentices, bound to their masters by a contract for a specific period of time, after which the obligations by both parties became void. So I believe that the contract, or indenture, would be part of an estate and could be passed on to the deceased person’s heirs. That’s different from chattel slaves, who would be passed from one person to another in the same way household furnishing or livestock would be.

  10. Jullian Crowe said, on September 20, 2016 at 2:40 pm


    Great blog. I wanted to ask you about this huge gif. where did you find it. Did you blow it up and if so. How? It is beautiful and mysterious all at once. Thanks Andy.

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